Chattanooga Times Free Press

Paris terror trial opens for 20 accused in 2015 attacks

- BY LORI HINNANT AND NICOLAS VAUX-MONTAGNY

PARIS — The trial of 20 men accused in a series of coordinate­d attacks on Paris in 2015 that spread fear across Europe and transforme­d France opened Wednesday in a custom-built complex embedded within a 13th-century courthouse.

Nine Islamic State group gunmen and suicide bombers struck within minutes of one another at several locations around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. It was the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II and among the worst terror attacks to hit the West.

The worst carnage was at the Bataclan concert hall, where three men, dressed in black and armed with assault rifles, gunned down scores of people and grabbed a handful of hostages. Others targeted the national soccer stadium, where the president was attending a game, as well as cafes filled with people on a mild autumn night.

The lone surviving attacker from that night, Salah Abdeslam, is the key defendant — but he has so far refused to speak to investigat­ors, denying them answers to many of the remaining questions about the attacks and the people who planned them.

Abdeslam, whose brother was among the suicide bombers, appeared intent on provoking those assembled to see justice done Wednesday. Dressed all in black, mask included, he declared his profession to be “fighter for Islamic State” and later burst out with complaints about treatment in prison.

Abdeslam, who fled the night of the attacks after ditching his car and a malfunctio­ning suicide vest, is the only defendant charged with murder. The other defendants present face lesser terrorism charges.

The presiding judge, Jean-Louis Peries, acknowledg­ed the extraordin­ary nature of the attacks — which changed security in Europe and France’s political landscape — and the trial to come. France only emerged from the state of emergency declared in the wake of the attacks in 2017, after incorporat­ing many of the harshest measures into law.

“The events that we are about to decide are inscribed in their historic intensity as among the internatio­nal and national events of this century,” he said.

Dominique Kielemoes, whose son bled to death at one of the cafes, said hearing victims’ testimonie­s at the trial will be crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation.

“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were firing into the crowd, into a mass of people. But it wasn’t a mass — these were individual­s who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectatio­ns, and that we need to talk about at the trial. It’s important,” she said.

Of the 20 men charged, six will be tried in absentia. Abdeslam will be questioned multiple times — but it remains to be seen if he will break his silence beyond the sort of allegiance he offered Wednesday to Islamic State groups.

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